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Making a Wild Garden Area in the Backyard

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Making a small wildlife patch

In the spring of 2013 we added some bird tables and feeders into the garden and decided to start developing a wild area of land to encourage the local wildlife. Before we started on our journey with backyard birding, our outdoor space was a plain and boring lawn. No wonder birds didn't come to visit because there was no attraction for them. We were missing out on bees, butterflies and other fauna and living things as well.

So we gave up a back corner of the garden and started to let nature take its course. This was initially a mistake. We ended up in that first year with an area packed with weeds. They were not even attractive looking weeds but the nasty stinging and thorny varieties. So that experiment didn't work and we ended up chopping it all down. 

On the second attempt, we let the area grow wild again. This time, however, we were very careful to keep on patiently digging out the really undesirable weeds. We made sure to dig right down to the roots and pull them up so they would not easily grow back. This year, we're starting to see a much nicer selection of wild flowers and grasses. Wildlife is finally creeping in to the garden.

Attracting Bees with Clover

Bee on white clover plant

Since our second attempt at growing a wild area, we have some taller grasses emerging and some prettier weeds such as clover. We've had a real spread of white clover, Trifolium repens, and red clover, Trifolium pratense, which the local bees just adore.

If you want to attract bumblebees, I can really recommend growing either of these clovers. I noticed that certain bees will just fly to white clover flowers while others favor the red variety. Another plant that really attracts bees is our Cotoneaster shrub. This large plant has delicate, white blossom in the spring which the bees adore and red berries in the autumn for the birds. [1]

Red clover and buttercup in the grass

Clovers are weeds because they can spread very quickly. One potential problem with having lots of clover on a lawn is that it will often attract lots of bees. You need to watch carefully where you are walking and, if you have children playing on a lawn, it's not ideal. However, clover is definitely worth having if you want to encourage bees. You may just want to contain it within a specific area. [2]

We acquired a few of next door's flowers which started to just grow up in this wild area. My favorite one is the Hollyhock plant which I'm looking forward to seeing out in flower again this year. It's grown stronger since I snipped off all the diseased looking leaves earlier this spring. Unfortunately Hollyhocks are prone to rust which does not look very pleasant. [3]

Encouraging Birds with the Wildlife

European goldfinch bird

We've attracted different birds in the garden since adding a wild section. One is the European Goldfinch which is a particularly striking bird with a dramatic red and black face and yellow and black wings. These birds enjoy eating thistle seeds which grow naturally in the wild. We feed them black sunflower seeds and the more expensive sunflower hearts. They mostly choose to feed on the latter.

Another bird variety which has really taken well to our wild patch is the House Sparrow. The sparrow is actually a Red Alert species here in the United Kingdom. Its numbers are in sharp decline. So we are happy to start attracting these birds into the backyard. We're now getting them daily and they love creeping around in the longer grass and picking up dropped bits of seed from the feeders. [4]

We also get another Red Status RSPB bird, the Song Thrush. This bird is also in sharp decline in the UK. My theory is that it is enjoying the larger supply of snails (a favorite food) now thriving in our wild patch. I've occasionally watched the bird using its beak to smash the shell against a stone to get to the valuable meat inside.  [5]

Frogs in the Garden

Green and brown common frog

I was pretty surprised to find not one but two frogs in our back garden. At first, I thought I was seeing double. One was sheltering in the shade between plant pots and I was careful not to disturb it. The other one gave me a slight fright when I tipped the bird bath water out and it made a sudden jump into the long grass below.

My surprise was because we don't have a garden pond. There was once a pond next door and perhaps that is why the frogs were there. Amphibians are known to come back to the same ponds. We have a couple of bird baths but they were both a little on the high side for easy access to hop into. I put some shallow bowls out and filled them with water and rocks to make it easy for the frogs to use. Then I created a frog habitat for them.

We've got two bird baths: one on a tall pedestal which the pigeons particularly love to bathe in and one balanced on an upturned plant pot which attracts smaller birds who come to drink and wash their feathers. Perhaps the frogs were initially attracted to the bird baths and came wandering into the garden.

Funnily enough the smaller bird bath has a frog statue placed in the middle. It was a small but heavy stone statue left over by the previous owners and completely covered in moss. I cleaned it up and added it into the bath. There are also some stones in there which are better for smaller birds who prefer shallower pools of water. Now I'm wondering if the frog statue acted like a good luck charm to attract our newest wildlife members.

Encourage Wildlife by Letting a Patch of Lawn Grow Naturally

Allowing a small area outdoors to grow more naturally can encourage plants, insects, bugs and wildlife that will help to attract in a bigger variety of birds as well as bees. We are really happy at what an improvement there is this year on bringing more diversity into the garden. It is much more interesting than looking at a plain, manicured lawn.

Image Credit: all images on this page belong to the author of this article, Marie Williams Johnstone



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  1. "How to grow the best cotoneasters." The Telegraph. 14/12/2015 <Web >
  2. "Clover in lawns." RHS. 14/12/2015 <Web >
  3. "Hollyhock rust." RHS. 14/12/2015 <Web >
  4. "House Sparrow." RSPB. 14/12/2015 <Web >
  5. "Song Thrush." RSPB. 14/12/2015 <Web >

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